14 Dec 2017
Five Harvard Business School Doctoral Candidates Receive Research Awards

BOSTON—The Harvard Business School Doctoral Programs and their faculty chair, David Scharfstein, the School’s Edmund Cogswell Converse Professor of Finance and Banking, have announced three recipients of the 2017 Wyss Awards for Excellence in Doctoral Research and two winners of the Martin Awards for Excellence in Business Economics. The prizes are presented each year based on excellence in innovative dissertation research.

The 2017 Winners of the Wyss Award for Excellence in Doctoral Research are:

Cheng Gao (Strategy)
Gao’s research examines how firms navigate nascent industries characterized by regulatory uncertainty. In many of today’s most prominent innovation industries―such as autonomous vehicles, gene-editing, and the sharing economy―success often depends heavily on overcoming regulatory challenges and shaping emerging standards. Gao studies this question in the context of the nascent personal genomics industry. He highlights a novel logic of interaction with regulators—co-creation—that new ventures can employ to shape emerging regulations and unpack its underlying mechanisms and contingencies. While conventional perspectives conceptualize regulators as all-knowing, his findings suggest that regulators often rely on new ventures for information and expertise, and that this dependence-relationship can serve as a source of leverage in allowing ventures to collaboratively propose, iterate, and shape emerging regulations. Co-creation entails a qualitatively distinctive relationship between ventures and regulators—one based more on mutual influence and co-dependence than on their power imbalance, as implied by conventional perspectives. Taken together, these findings shed new light on how new ventures and regulators interact in the emergence of new technology industries.

Paul Green Jr. (Management)
Green explores the ways in which interpersonal relationships at work can provide the fuel for employees’ development. Using large-scale archival and field experimental data, he shows that the structures organizations implement to enable development—performance management and feedback processes—do not yield desired results because feedback from others threatens employees’ positive self-views, pushing people apart rather than inspiring development. Green’s work suggests that the most effective implementations of performance management take a relational view. Deep and affirming relationships with others at work may help employees be more receptive to difficult-to-hear feedback. But more important, these meaningful connections serve basic human needs and may themselves be energy-giving, increasing employees’ drive to improve.

Maria Ibanez (Operations)
From physicians seeing patients to auditors inspecting establishments, many jobs entail completing a series of sequential, independent tasks. Ibanez’s recent research focuses on the sequencing of decision making, with the ultimate goal of illuminating ways that individuals can make better decisions. Collaborating with organizations to analyze large-scale field data, she investigates how the sequencing of decision making affects the decisions we make as well as the consequences of deviating from the prescribed sequence for tasks. While individuals do often improve their productivity by altering the suggested order for tasks, exercising this level of discretion takes time—an opportunity cost that is easy to underestimate and may exceed the benefits of the productivity improvement from improved sequencing. Overall, her research highlights opportunities to improve decision making by being mindful of task ordering and the time it takes to make those decisions.

The 2017 Winners of the Martin Award for Excellence in Doctoral Student Research in Business Economics are:

Yueran Ma (Business Economics)
Ma has conducted empirical research on individual and firm behavior in financial markets. Her recent work investigates the impact of low interest rates, demonstrating that individuals “reach for yield” and display a greater appetite for risk taking when interest rates are low. The study provides evidence from randomized experiments and historical data on household investment allocations. To explain such behavior, the paper proposes and provides evidence for two mechanisms related to investor psychology. First, people form reference points of investment returns based on past experiences and strive to achieve these reference returns. Second, people are also affected by proportional thinking, and extra returns are especially salient in low interest rate environments. The findings provide a new perspective for understanding reaching for yield. They have also been informative for financial regulators, who replicated the experiments in Europe to assist their supervisory analyses. In other research, Ma studies how imperfections in capital markets affect non-financial firms as well as bounded rationality in expectations formation.

Neil Thakral (Business Economics)
Thakral’s research investigates the way people make decisions, with an emphasis on implications for the design of markets and incentives. He examines the effect of fluctuations in earnings on the decision of how much to work, focusing on workers who can flexibly choose their hours. The findings are consistent with the intuition that people overreact to surprises, as they work less in response to higher accumulated earnings. In addition, surprises wear out over time, since responses to recently accumulated earnings are much stronger. This points toward a model in which behavior is influenced by a reference point that adjusts over time. The result that behavior is sensitive to the timing of payments can be applied to develop more effective policies for stimulating consumption. Thakral has also done research on the optimal allocation of public housing. He proposes a new mechanism for allocating public housing that improves the matching between tenants and housing units by allowing households to trade off their preferences for different units and waiting times. He shows that implementing this in practice would lead to substantial welfare gains.

About the Awards

The Wyss Awards are named in honor of Hansjörg Wyss (MBA 1965), who established the Hansjörg Wyss Endowment for Doctoral Education in 2004. The Wyss Endowment supports a broad range of efforts to strengthen the Harvard Business School Doctoral Programs, including fellowships and stipends for doctoral students, increased support for field research, new doctoral course development, teaching skills training, and the renovation of doctoral facilities on campus.

The Roger Martin Fund for Doctoral Research was established in 2006 through the generosity of Roger Martin (MBA 1981), former dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The fund was created in memory of Harvard Business School professor John Lintner, a world-renowned expert in finance and one of Martin’s mentors. Harvard Business School grants the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) in five areas of study: accounting and management, marketing, management, strategy, and technology and operations management. It also offers PhD programs in collaboration with the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in business economics, health policy management, and organizational behavior. At any given time, approximately 130 HBS doctoral students are completing course work or working on their dissertations at the School.


Cullen Schmitt